1 Aug 2017

Stop Telling Us That Women’s Sport Is As Good As Men’s - It Isn’t!

Propaganda takes many forms. One in a sea of misandric sexism is the way in which we are being told, by feminist broadcasters and much of the Press all of which is feminist, that women’s sport is the same as men’s.
By Dominic Lawson: I realise that to oppose this recently created conventional wisdom is to risk obloquy and even disgrace, as the tennis commentator and many-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe has recently discovered. As a man of no sporting pedigree or distinction whatsoever, I am much more open to ridicule in making such a judgment.
But still, I have to say it: in sports such as cricket, football and rugby, the attention now being lavished by television companies on the women’s game owes everything to the (understandable) desire to attract female viewers and very little to objective assessment of sporting quality and excitement.
The space given to the England women’s cricket World Cup victory eight days ago was extraordinary in this respect. Not only were there acres of coverage in the sports pages, but a Times leader, no less, described it as ‘one of the best games of recent times’. It concluded by suggesting that our women’s triumph was of no less sporting significance than if it had been achieved by the English men in the ICC Cricket World Cup that billions watch across the globe.
If one’s interest in sport is purely parochial or nationalistic, then the fact that it was an English team that won this competition is all that counts.
But the true measure of sporting significance has nothing to do with the colour of the winners’ passports. Usain Bolt, Muhammad Ali, Pele; these figures define what we — whatever our nationality — mean by sporting greatness. The reason is that they synthesised power and speed in a way which left spectators almost unable to believe their eyes.
In cricket, we call this ‘pace on the ball’ — whether it is the pace from the bowler’s hand, or as it comes rocketing back off the batsman’s blade. Seen in the flesh, it is thrilling, even a bit frightening.
The star of the England team’s final victory at Lord’s was Anya Shrubsole, described in one newspaper account as ‘a fiery fast bowler’. I did, actually, watch the highlights of that game, and Shrubsole has a beautiful bowling action, classically high and smooth. But fast? Only by the standards of women’s cricket. Her peak speed is around 70 mph. Now, this is the pace which would count as a cunningly disguised slower ball, if delivered by a county standard male opening bowler.
When the all-rounder Natalie Sciver caught the Indian Deepti Sharma to put the English women within a wicket of victory, the commentator screamed: ‘What a catch!’ Sorry: it was the sort of catch which would be described as ‘a dolly’ if it happened in an international between the English and Indian men’s teams. Shortly afterwards, Jenny Gunn — described as ‘steely-eyed’ by the Times — dropped a catch so simple that the word ‘dolly’ doesn’t get near it. Honestly, it would have caused titters if it had happened in a pub match on the village green.
There was a World Cup at stake, and (apart from the members’ pavilion) a packed crowd at Lord’s watching — which might help explain why Gunn flubbed such a sitter. So perhaps I shouldn’t have burst out laughing. But I was genuinely surprised — having been, I admit, deluded by the endless hype into thinking that I would be seeing a match of high quality.
That hype comes as much from the BBC as it does from Sky Sports, who are the actual broadcasters of women’s cricket.
Quite often the BBC sneakily don’t tell us in their headlines that it’s the women’s version. A couple of years ago, I was startled when, a week after the English men had beaten the Aussies to win the Ashes, I woke to hear on a Radio 4 early morning news bulletin that ‘England are on the verge of losing the Ashes’.
It took my emerging consciousness a while to realise the newsreader was talking about a contest between the two nations’ women’s cricket sides. Message to the BBC: that’s not the Ashes — and therefore not of sufficient interest to figure in the news headlines.
However, one must understand the BBC’s difficulties. Unknown to us at the time, the Corporation was broadcasting this stuff in the full knowledge that it was paying its female presenters a fraction of what it shovels to their male equivalents.
So perhaps it was working off a bit of a guilty conscience (‘we may not be paying the girls nearly as much, but at least we can big up their sporting achievements so we don’t look sexist’).
I’m no football fan, but friends who are tell me that my critique of women’s cricket — it lacks the pace to thrill even the casual viewer — applies to their game, too. This helps explain why the average attendance at the female equivalent of the Premier League is barely over a thousand. That’s basically friends and families.
I’m not, by the way, arguing that those at the top of women’s team sports lack skill. Far from it: on the cricket field, the best women strike the ball with wonderful precision and elegance. They are clearly well coached and have very fine hand-eye co-ordination. But what would happen if they came up against a male fast bowler? It would be the same as happens when a man of club level — far below county standard — comes up against the best.
In my 20s and 30s I played a certain amount of club cricket. One day I somehow got roped into a game against a West Indian team containing the great fast bowler Courtney Walsh, in his prime. Rashly, I got him out (he was caught at extra cover trying to wallop my pathetic club-level ‘fast bowling’ far out of the ground, as it deserved). When I eventually came in to bat, Courtney’s eyes lit up and for the first time in the game he came off his full run up.
Three times he charged towards me. Three times I failed even to see the ball, only hearing the fizz of displaced air as the missile whooshed past me. Only then did I truly understand about the pace of the game at the top. If you think it’s exhilarating to watch, just try facing it at a distance of 22 yards.
So, when that Times leader lectures us that ‘the skills required to succeed’ at sports such as cricket are not ‘gender-specific’, this rather misses the point. The gulf is not one of skill, but of the consequences of skeletal structure and biology: the very different construction of the male and female pelvic girdle, for example, has a profound effect on the generation of force and pace.
This is also why, in the past 50 years, there has been no change in the relative performances in men’s and women’s athletics (and why ‘gender-testing’ is such a significant issue).
Yet even the greatest male sportsmen get into trouble when they broach this topic. Last month John McEnroe refused to agree to the proposition that Serena Williams be named ‘the best player’ in tennis history (based on the fact that this awesome competitor had won an unprecedented 23 grand-slam titles).
McEnroe observed that, in the men’s game, she would be ranked ‘like 700 in the world’. Williams responded in a tweet: ‘Dear John . . . please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.’
McEnroe then said he regretted raising the matter (you bet), and concluded: ‘She’s a great player but it’s apples and oranges.’ Williams knows this, despite her irritation at McEnroe’s remark. Some years ago she observed: ‘Men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely two separate sports. It’s just a different game.’
But if that is true of tennis (and who am I to argue with the greatest exponent of the women’s game?) it is certainly no less true of cricket and football. So please will our broadcasters stop spreading the big lie that they are the same?

Edited by AA

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